.... and I was struck with a variety of thoughts.
It took me back in time to my memories of growing up in Alabama and attending meetings of the faithful. The service was not at all like most of the places I have attended in RTP. It was simple, not very sophisticated, and decidedly NOT cutting edge. I would not describe it as anti-intellectual, but more like un-academic. There are places like that which are obnoxious in kind of a haughty ignorant self righteousness, but this was not that way at all. These were just simple, good people who loved Jesus and were profoundly sincere in a way most people would call "old fashioned."
It reminded me of that line in John Prine's song "Grandpa was a carpenter" where he talked about "stained glass in every window, hearing aids in every pew." There were no stained glass windows and no pews, either, but at age 55, I was "young," or at least relatively so. Part of that may have come from the geriatric crowd my mom is a part of. However, I got the distinct feeling that I was a part of an institution that used to be central to the South that is fading away. The sunday school lesson came back over and over to the need to be willing to adapt and change in order to have some kind of bridge to a generation that does not watch TV, treat marriage and commitments as options rather than obligations, see sexual mores as antiquated, get their entertainment more from YouTube (some did not know what that was) than some cable TV channel, and considers religion irrelevant.
The pleasant surprise to me was listening to a bunch of 60+ year olds discuss the secularization of culture and the consequent loss of influence by the church on the world around them. These are red state people, who still see the American flag and the cross of Jesus as symbols of America as it once was and should be. I expected "the normal" lament I have come to expect when I log on to places like Free Republic, which is a derisive, hostile and dismissive attack or ridicule on the foolishness of people who attempt to build a culture without God, and a lament that "they" have flushed it all down the drain. Rather, I found them expressing a sadness and sense of loss for their grandchildren who are growing up morally adrift, spiritually directionless, and in the old biblical term "lost." I expected to find a hostility toward the removal of God and Christianity from the public sphere and a desire to seize political power to "put prayer back in schools" or something, I rather heard repeated affirmations that "freedom of speech" means that competing voices have validity in the public square and that what they would call "our side" is no longer dominant, nor even relevant, and one should not expect, for example, to pray at HS football games in the name of Jesus. This was a maturity and level of cultural understanding I did not expect to find in a fundamentalist church in Alabama. I came away wondering who was the real cultural elitist, me or them.
The pastoral sermon was about "in God we trust." I almost groaned, expecting some marriage of the civic religion of God and country and goodness and surface morality that had been so distasteful to me as a kid.... then I wound up embracing it in the religious right, and now have come to see it as actually an attack on the gospel itself. Instead, I heard a wonderfully humble man who simply called his flock to trust in Jesus for their eternal destiny. I almost stood up and yelled "YES!" when he hammered over and over about the need for US (as opposed to THEM) to simply trust in the simplicity of the gospel message that Christ died to gain us perfect standing with God. Moreover, he hit the fact that this trust is the pulse and heartbeat of the Christian. From there, he talked about trust in prayer. He spoke about the need to take all of our lives and all we know about to God and pray, trusting Him. It was precious and powerful at the same time. Finally, he spoke on learning to trust God in our problems, perplexities, pains (my alliterations, not his. Not one time did he talk about the political implications of this. It was all calculated to help these folks to walk with Jesus.
I came away thinking that if there is any hope for our culture, it is NOT in the ones seeking to reform DC (lotsa luck on that one!), or influence legislation, or any number of other missions. Rather, it would be by God simply reviving and energizing little people like North Shelby Baptist Church.
I am a better man today for having gone.